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Swiss Chicks share 'a lost art'
Marion Kundert, 82, left, and Martha Bernet, 87, who make up the Swiss Chicks, perform for a bus tour of people eating lunch inside Turner Hall in Monroe Tuesday. (Times photos: Anthony Wahl)
MONROE - The Swiss Chicks didn't wobble or sway in their pumps and heels unless moved by the music, while they yodeled and sang at Turner Hall on Tuesday.

Martha Bernet, 87, and Marion Kundert, 82, make up the Swiss Chicks, and create harmony when Marion goes high and Martha goes low. Martha plays the accordion and Marion yodels. Together they belt out a strong melody, singing in the Swiss language. Marion learned to yodel at 5 years old from her father, an off-the-boat Swiss man. She said she and her sister toured around Green County singing traditional Swiss songs.

Marion met Martha at the Monroe Swiss Singers club, and they recently decided to start performing again. Marion said she loved to yodel with her siblings and father when she was young.

"Oh, we yodeled in the barn," she said.

Martha had been playing the diatonic accordion for about 80 years but had to give it up after she had serious back surgery three years ago. Now with a helpful hand she can sit and play, as long as somebody helps her back down again.

"You got your parachute on in case you have to jump off?" Del Heins asked Martha jokingly.

"I've parked myself and that's where I'm going to stay," she said.

Heins accompanied the ladies on accordion and warmed up the 90-person crowd, who came up to Monroe on a bus tour from Rockford. The tour group sat down to their buffet meals and lightly applauded the Swiss Chicks, or as they were introduced: the Swiss Hens, and their accompaniments.

"Looks like we're not the only old hens here," Martha said of the mostly white-haired tour group.

The performers take their time getting up to play, and even the measure of the songs is slow and easy. The ladies played two songs and then joined in a circle with Del Heins and others to do a three-verse version of "Come to Cheese Days in Monroe!" The old song penned by Rudy Burkhalter was punctuated by the yodeling of Marion to the delight of the crowd, as evidenced by their applause. It was a short set, only about three or four songs from the Swiss Chicks before they were off to snatch up some of the buffet.

Marion said she is worried yodeling could be lost on the younger generations. She was once asked if she taught yodeling to anyone and said no.

"It's becoming a lost art," she said.